Down to business. New season. Team. Players. In out. Go.
Something to build on. Tottenham made progress at a remarkable rate last season, both as a team and in terms of the individual players. This is Pochettino’s finest achievement – every one of them were better players in May than they were in August. As for the team, stratospheric improvement. Some, like Kane and Dembele, made themselves indispensable. Others like Alli grew from boy to man. One, Eric Dier, came from developing centreback to the best English defensive midfielder. And the wonderful thing is, there’s still room to grow. Their potential is thrillingly enticing.
So first priority – make sure these players who the whole of Europe is looking at stay. Alli, Wimmer, Kane and Dier have all signed new contracts. According to the media, Eriksen is not keen on whatever Spurs have offered but my sense is that negotiations continue and it will be sorted.
By April, the first team picked itself, simultaneously sound and fragile. Excellent for team togetherness but it exposed the weakness in the squad – a lack of depth. Without Alli and Dembele we looked a level below our best. My ambition is the same as it has been for several years – I want Spurs to be real contenders, to give every competition a right good go. To do so, we must strengthen. I’ve heard it suggested that we need only a couple. No – we need more. This isn’t a moan, not being negative, it’s reality. Don’t want to break the bank but spending on players is an investment.
Priorities: cover up front and in defensive midfield. Poch knows, and he knew it this time last season. Whatever he said in public, he wanted this done a year ago. An injury to Kane would have destroyed our season. Dier I have heard suggested from a London based journalist that the switch to DM was out of necessity not desire and no one expected him to be that good. Who knows?
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Anyway, Poch is ahead of the game and has acted early to buy Janssen and Wanyama, good buys at good prices. Wanyama is ideal – DM is his natural position, sniping in front of the back four, solid in the box and able to knock it quickly to a teammate once he wins the ball. Trusts Poch, Poch trusts him. Can slot right in. Janssen, you should never look at youtube highlights so I looked at his youtube highlights, couldn’t resist it. Scores with both feet and his head, I particularly liked his ability to improvise. Balls at awkward heights, he’s falling over, whatever he gets it on target somehow. Like that a lot.
Cover at centreback will come from Carter-Vickers – Pochettino has said he’s not going to look outside the club. Dier can of course drop back there but he’s our best DM and I believe the best players should play in their best positions. Hope we do not get the injuries that leave us to rue that decision.
So I’d like some pace – N’koudou from France is the N’Jie upgrade in that respect – and another creative force in centre midfield. We could look for a hard-working up and down right midfielder – teams see a Spurs side with Lamela in front of Walker as defensively weak on that side. Not first choice but this is squad game.
That offers cover, flexibility and options. For instance, Wanyama could replace Dier to give Eric a much-needed rest but also they could play alongside each other when we need that extra protection, for instance away from home in the CL. Dembele is a DM as in deep-lying, instrumental in starting attacks from deep as well as winning the ball in the middle but he is less sure-footed in our box. Wanyama’s role is different. Also, maybe Dembele can play further forward, using his runs and unheard of ability to hang on to the ball to run at opposition defences. Or how about Lamela in a free role. I admire his effort but he’s not comfortable when defending, so there’s the option of freeing him up to make those quick 10-15 yard diagonal passes from central areas that have provided several assists. Release his talent.
We know N’Jie, Fazio, Pritchard and Bentaleb are on the way. Shame to lose Nabil. 18 months ago I thought he could become the best of all our young players, and I’m including Kane in that. Rangy stride, confident on the ball, always available and a great pass, what’s not to like? Rumours are that his attitude was poor last season but he was injured for an extended period. Pochettino gives players an extended chance if he likes them but if they don’t take it, they’re gone. Expectations are high at Spurs, rightly so, and if players don’t progress at the same rate as the group, they are shown the door, which seems to be Pritchard’s fate.
Of the rest, Tom Carroll seems vulnerable. Mobile, willing and another good passer, over time he doesn’t make enough of an impact compared with his team-mates. So too is Chadli, who has great skill on the ball and can take up good attacking positions but spends too much time waiting for other players to put in the work, not exactly the Poch way. Mason I would keep without question. Committed, very much part of the squad and playing for the most part out of position – he’s an attacking midfielder by trade – he was hampered by injury after a fine start to last season and I would not judge him on a couple of weak games at the tail end of last season when he was not match fit. Four competitions remember over the next months – we need squad men like him. I’ll leave you with the thought – why be in a hurry to sell anyone?
Another thing I’d like to see Spurs have is a Plan B, an alternative set-up to match the situation. N’koudou could be the pace to take the game to teams who are hanging back. And sides will hang back. Towards the end of the season less able opponents worked us out – everyone back and hit us on the break or at a set piece. We ran out of ideas – I’m thinking in particular of the crucial draw versus West Brom, two points dropped after being a goal up and momentum lost. Also, this style is the tactic du jour after Euro 2016. Tactics come in and out of fashion, and the lesson from the Euros was surely about how teamwork and a relative lack of attacking ambition is a potent leveller.
I wouldn’t mind seeing an out-of-character purchase of a man with experience at the highest level. Not so much Naybet or Nelsen, more Davids or Gallas, warriors with nouse and passion if not quite the bounce in their legs any more. Gallas the last time we were in the CL or versus Arsenal, if only he had come to the Lane a few years earlier….anyway, a bit of leadership never goes amiss and it’s not just the young men who have ambition.
Won’t happen of course, not how Pochettino sees things. I hope Levy gives him what he wants. Suspicion lingers that Levy has set a finite budget that includes sales from Pritchard, Bentaleb and possibly Chadli. If that suits MP, fine, but Levy has a history of not fully backing his managers. Surely Pochettino has done enough to inspire his chairman’s complete confidence.